This year's Junior's Championships presented the strongest field of competitors in many years, thanks in part to a new qualifying round. The six finalists all presented sure skills and well-constructed routines.
But the winner was clearly 15-year-old Chuck Gunter of Tallahassee, Fla. Coming out on stage dressed in black and acting like a cocky, muscular greaser, Gunter pranced through a highly technical routine with very few drops. His sure hands seldom failed him in manipulation of five balls with pirouettes, multiplex and column variations, a five ball shower with under-the-leg throws, seven ball cascade, and four and five club routines. And as much as the audience was impressed with his surehandedness, they were entertained with his continuous motion around the stage in time to his music.
As he signed autographs for youngsters after his win, Gunter gave much of the credit to former seniors champion Benji Hill, who coached him for several months and put the routine together. "Having a coach meant everything," said Gunter. "Now I know how it's done and how to perform."
Hill pointed out that Gunter's routine had 68 "elements" - defined as a trick, transition or movement. And of those 68, the coach counted just six drops.
Gunter entered the 11th grade this year and would like to perform more, but said Florida's labor laws won't let him work until he's 16. He also performs with devil sticks and rings, and won the "most amazing" award at this year's Groundhog Day Jugglers Festival in Atlanta. The IJA crowd was quick to second that motion in Los Angeles!